I have a confession to make. I am a terrible sleeper. I watch what I eat, keep the Mountain Dew consumption to an acceptable level, and exercise when I can. But I can’t remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep. With the world celebrating World Sleep Day on March 17, it is always important to remember why it’s important to get your zzz’s. But the benefits of hitting the pillow earlier each night extend beyond better judgment and improved alertness; it could save your life.

Here are four surprise effects of a lack of sleep.

1. Increases the risk of stroke.

In a medical study conducted by Professors Dr. Michele Miller and Dr. Francesco Cappuccio, evidence showed that people who sleep less than six hours per night and have disturbed sleep have a 15 percent greater chance of developing or dying from a stroke. “The trend for late nights and early mornings is actually a ticking time bomb for our health,” Professor Cappuccio says. “So you need to act now to reduce your risk of developing these life-threatening conditions.”

2. Increases the risk of accidents.

What does the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl have in common? Sleep deprivation was a factor in each disaster. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsiness and fatigue due to lack of sleep cause 100,000 auto crashes and approximately 1,550 crash-related deaths per year in the U.S. “Studies also show that sleep loss and poor-quality sleep also lead to accidents and injuries on the job,” Camille Peri says. “In one study, workers who complained about excessive daytime sleepiness had significantly more work accidents, particularly repeated work accidents.” They also had more sick days per accident.

3. Increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.

Sleep is essential for your body to recharge and heal. When we sleep, our heart takes that downtime to rest by lowering heart rate and blood pressure. When it is deprived an opportunity to heal and recharge, it creates inflammation. “Inflammation is a well-known predictor of cardiovascular health,” Aric Prather, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, says. “Our findings show evidence that poor sleep appears to play a bigger role than we had previously thought in driving long-term increases in inflammation levels and may contribute to the negative consequences often associated with poor sleep.”

4. Increases your chance of weight gain.

Just think of it. All of your hard work at the gym could be ruined by not getting to bed at a decent hour. In an article published by Reader’s Digest, they referred to a study at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. Researchers found that sleep-deprived people seem to burn the same number of calories as the well-rested, but they consume about 300 more calories a day. The study also explored the body’s tendency to slow down our metabolism to conserve energy. “That slowdown triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which increases appetite. Your body thinks it needs more energy, so it asks for more food,” Michael Breus, a sleep disorder specialist says.

If you are looking for an easy way to improve your health and productivity, consider how many hours you sleep each night. You will see the benefits of more sleep in both your personal and professional life. “The last thing we want is for our staff to be suffering from a lack of sleep. That is why we work hard to be sure our staff is scheduled with hours that won’t interfere with healthy sleeping habits,” Mark Hymas, executive director at Copper Ridge Health Care said. A well-rested employee is a valuable asset to any workplace. And a full night’s sleep is an important step in attaining the healthy life you’ve been dreaming about.

Originally published at medium.com